Labour leader Pat Rabbitte has claimed that the Government's plan to co-locate private hospitals on public hospital lands is in 'serious doubt' because of a legal difficulty.

In a statement this morning, Mr Rabbitte claimed that under the 2004 Health Act, any direction to the Health Service Executive must be laid before both houses of the Oireachtas within 21 days, but this was not done in the case of the co-location plan.

He said this left the entire process to date, including the short-listing of bidders and the invitation to tender, open to a High Court challenge by any disappointed tenderer or other interested party.

Mr Rabbitte said the Department of Health had confirmed to his office that the requirement to lay the document before the Oireachtas was not complied with, due to an 'administrative oversight', which it would now rectify.

But he said the act clearly states a 21-day time limit, and he believes the department has no choice but to restart the process.

The Department of Health said its advice from the Attorney General was that failure to lay the direction before the Oireachtas within the time limit does not affect the validity of the direction.

In a statement, the department said the provision in the legislation was designed to ensure the Oireachtas is aware of policy directions, but that its approval is not required.